I had been looking forward to this reading of Not Dead Yet Poets’ Society, and had planned for it, but my childcare options suddenly fell through on two levels. John was late, my neighbor had a complication, and so I had to stuff Milo into his raincoat, boots, whisk him off unwelcome and harried and late to the reading at the Main Street Gallery in the dimly awakening nightlife of Redwood City. Instead of composing my mind to think of my poem or even having a moment to practice I was answering questions from him about the night, the city, the gallery, Main Street, What Is an Art Gallery. Then questions about him, some from well-meaning people, some NOT. Oh, the little disapprovals and snideries! Out late, isn’t he? Is he going to be a Good Boy? You do understand that a child can be Distracting? I hope you can keep him Quiet. He knows not to touch anything, right? Rather than focus on the people I would like to talk to, I have to keep my mind focused on my son and his experience. Yes, people, I do understand that a child can be distracting. What do you think?
The temptation to answer everyone with flippant rudeness… running a spectrum from “oh, fuck off already” to “Actually, as you have correctly discerned, I am the sort of unwed teenage mother who feeds my child on diet pepsi, goldfish crackers, twinkies, and crack cocaine, and I encourage him to scream as loud as possible during poetry readings in fancy art galleries with delicate breakable Art made of glass, to express my punk rock disrespect for you and all your ilk. By the way, he has double pneumonia.” Well, I held my tongue, Milo quietly read Asterix in the corner, and John showed up just before the reading was about to start, since the rain and lack of chairs and large crowd delayed the reading for 20 minutes or so. Thank god!
Now that that’s off my chest! Whew! It’s a blog, so I get to say whatever I want!
The room was packed. Way more so than usual for the NYDPS. Really the cream of the peninsula poets came to hear and be heard. Forgive me for saying that… (Or don’t.)
Jayne Kos hosted the reading, and we kicked off with some tributes to Anatole Lubovich. Kathy St. Claire wrote in talking about Anatole’s attempt to write the shortest poem possible that would express the essence of cats: “Cat sits.” James Lee or James Li wrote in from Sacramento with a poem about stars. “Stars are maps to the soul” …that sort of thing. Bruce Jewett – who sometimes sends me poetry postcards and who used to publish small books and magazines in the.. 70s? 80s? I think the Fat Frog… talked about how Anatole was vibrant with verve but how they were oil and water.
Jayne then read parts of Arntson’s introduction. It was funny and sort of touching when in her inimitable kindergarten-teacher style she said that many things were important influence on him, including “The Burning Man” said with a strangely wrong emphasis as people normally say it with no “the” and the “ing” elided so that it’s trocheed, equal stress, BURN(uh) MAN. (Like saying “house boat” or “tow truck”. The lights went off. There were xmas lights, and EL wire in a long coiling tangle on the floor, and some zappy globes making you think of the beauty of neon in the rain. All cheesy and half-assed, but in a good way that gave us beauty and atmosphere… dislocation. Arntson in his fez and pakistani-looking tunic thing. (Salwar kameez? I can’t remember the name of it. ) A little tinsel and vaudeville. Two radios, one with swing music and one with a crackly broadcast of the Day that will live in Infamy… Fellow Americans… Pearl Harbor.. the pearl that fell into the ocean. Remarks from Arntson.
First – “She saw a ghost” which was brilliant and lovely… a somewhat halting start until he got into the swing of it. You have to rememeber he recites it all from memory and he recited for probably 40 minutes nonstop. An ode to saltines, clouds, ghosts, journeys, exhaustion physical and spiritual. His poems just keept going. You realize, “Oh. There is no reason to stop here,” and keep writing. This was one of the main head-opening lessons for me when I first started hearing Steve read at Waverley and San Jose Arts League at the minor street house. I wrote the essay “On Stopping” and began to push myself beyond – a push also helped by Diane Di Prima.
This little bit of the poem is not formatted properly. It should be rambling all over the page with a lot of white space, staggered and open-handed. Maybe I will come back later and try to do it correctly. (It’s time consuming with HTML.)
tired of all that waking state
she started to dream before she slept
And her dream was our own on the way to the lake
qualified by crackers
nourished by those same saltines
of sodium and chlorine
packed for just this occasion of reconnaissance and homelessness
So the scenery is haunted
in spite of better knowing
the night as eclipse
collapsing the sun on a diet of corn starch
seeing all the way to the stars
the last she saw before they saw HER
like rock n roll psychedelia staring back
she thought a city to have receded with all of the sun
east to westside gone
she is of the cult of the newcomer to all this terrain
as the right idea at the very right time
the sky is royally appointed
therefore she things of her angels throughout the evening
and angels there may be, convening
allowed just enough substance
to startle the mortal
traveller gone crackers-giddy in the twilight
Saltines, clouds, journeys, dream and waking come together. Whiteness in want of water.
and the answer: “Pai-ute” : “water-there”
And thus a people are named
for a direction you take to slake a thirst
And now t his witching for water in the dark
Waterboarding to blue tremolo of trembling shore
so that you shudder with the cheddar
collide with nabisco, the cracker too delicate
to last the length of jolting
She studies the ghhost and ourselves
the relative corporeal
it is as if the wind had determined to be visible
beyond its agitations of botany
The deal is, you stay with it, and sometimes you can’t and you spin off into your own thoughts sparked by listening. That spacing out is okay. It takes practice to absorb and stay with a long poem. But you are reeled back in by some strand coming back. The cracker comes back and combines with cloud, or the Paiutes with water and its lack and the ghost and your attention is caught. The point of the long poem is that it is not a painting; it is a journey and you not only end up somewhere, you have travelled somewhere. Arntson’s poems are road trips of the mind. You can sit next to him in the car and enjoy the journey. You can pull off the road or space out – that’s the beauty of the trip.
He read “Wadsworth” – a long poem about an abandoned school. Beautiful!
Shark Car, which me and Rob Pesich published in the “Cuts from the Barbershop” anthology.
Synaptic Mandala – which I give a sample of here:
last bit of Synaptic Mandala: 1.6MB
And Mousetrap, to which I wondered what percent of the room got what it was about.
Well, I could go on praising his poetry and giving examples but I’d like to give that more time and energy than I have available this moment.
He passed out (free) a CD with three poems on it. Good quality recordings, but the music is intrusive and cheesy. Alas! How can this be? He’s a good musician… but must have had a blind moment or just loves his friend the cheesy-keyboard player.
To the open mike. April, Palmer Pinney with a sort of holiday poem, a couple of other people read, but
I was not fully there. I read the first bit of “The Dead Girlfriend of Novalis” not really at my best. Later Jayne pointed out that I said “amApolas” instead of “amaPOlas” … er! whoops! I think because it sounds greek. But of course she is right! Bruce read a poem. Judith B. read a long poem about acorn woodpeckers, who live communally. Mary-Marcia Casoly read a poem “stay wild” about the sky and ocean.
Then the Saturday Poets crowd, all together:
Amy McLennan … ghost ships. Lisa Ortiz read an astonishingly good poem about cookies, desire, and martinis. I have written before that she is the ultimate celebrator of profundity in the suburban mundane, distilling it beautifully… dark in your bitter parts, bitter in your dark. The fierce YES of the crinkling insomniac cookie bag. More people should listen carefully to what she is doing. Robert H. “People said he had crazy eyes…” Amy Miller – In the century where nothing happened – another brilliant poem. I have trouble reading my own handwriting but I exploded into note taking with a lot of exclamation points and little stars on the page. “They washed the murals off the walls…” Quite good. A science-fiction poet and I expect to see more of her stuff out there… I wish I had a copy of this poem.
JC Watson – “for family”. “old friendship an ancient car/something always coming loose.” As always, good. Once at a readaround we took turns reading her poems in our varying reading styles. Because sometimes her delivery style blinds you a little. It’s very powerful. But the poems can be VERY different read aloud by someone else. It was instructive. It was also cool to hear her do one of my poems HER way.
Christine Holland – a poem about a painting of native americans – history – painting – colonialism – solid. I started thinking of John McPhee. She is the John McPhee of poetry? Hmmm. I’m not sure if that would please or insult her but it’s what I was thinking and I meant it as a compliment. She paints and extends vision. David Cummings in faultless flowing rhythm – “and I think of Blake’s other law,” – really a technical master and a builder of complex thought.
Charlotte talked about Anatole, a heartfelt cascade of feelings about how he was quite amazing, cosmopolitan, cultured, bizarre and fantastic, somewhat unappreciated because he was difficult and prickly as well. A story about having dinner with him and fearing death by food poisoning because the food was in the fridge but the fridge didn’t actually function as a fridge… And he is quite stubborn and of course no way to convey to him that maybe chicken should be kept particularly cold. Charlotte really is grasping over saying something between a (self and other) reproach and a confession of love for us all as a community, that… she didn’t realize until he was gone how much she would miss him, this person almost a stranger whose work she has known for so many years, seen once, twice a month at Events… And that maybe we all are that important to each other and that is as it should be – but how to recognize it? What does it mean? That’s what I felt she was saying.
Patrick Daly – read a poem of Anatole’s. I riffled through a couple of magazines but he chose the best poem of Anatole’s from that selection ‘ “Grey Hereafter Ever After” and I did not want to read one that was an order of magnitude less interesting (all the others.) A poem castigating the “grey breath” of hedonophobes. Anatole at his best when formal and technical and exquisitely clever. I like his sonnets. I am not a neoformalist or any kind of formalist, but I enjoy formality when other people do it well, and I don’t give a rat’s ass what’s in fashion. As if we are limited by time! Bah humbug!
Steve Arntson stood up again to recite (from almost-memory) a sonnet of Substance by Anatole. “When I consider the things that swirl through space…’ …”I am amazed that I can reach this far…” Alas, I cannot memorize a poem or even write fast enough to keep up. I could have typed fast enough to capture most of it, but was not quick on the draw with the laptop.
Arntston passed out a packet of poems, some typed, some xeroxed from his manuscripts. This made me so happy! I begged him and begged him to do it! And he did, huzzah! I want everyone to appreciate his genius.
Everyone cleaned up, and left quickly… and Arntson was off to take the train to his night watchman job at a huge downtown building, a granite palace where he makes Tchaikovsky echo off the dimensions of Solomon’s Temple.
A great, memorable reading!
I always take brief notes and looking back on them can rememeber and reconstruct most of an evening. I feel self-conscious to type it up with everyone’s names… but I hope they enjoy coming across it if they do some vanity googling.